Answers to Your Questions About Toxic-Free Living

New Study Shows Phthalate Exposure in Early Life Can Affect Girl’s Thyroid Health Later On


A new study shows that early life exposure to phthalates is linked to lower thyroid function in young girls.

Researchers found that exposure to a common group of phthalates was associated with lower levels of active thyroid function in 3-year-old girls.

Study author Pam Facts-Litvak, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health said, “I think the message to consumers is be careful of the products they use. Depressed thyroid hormones are associated in many studies with feelings of depression, anxiety and behavior problems in children as well as metabolic issues later in life.”

Researchers did not find the same conntection between phthalates exposure and lower thyroid function among boys.

TIME: How Household Chemicals Can Hurt Young Girls’ Health

ENVIRONMENT INTERNATIONAL: Phthalates and thyroid function in preschool age children: Sex specific associations

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Turapur Water Pitcher

Question from Elaine

Hi Debra,

I fell for an online infomercial for a water filter Turapur. Though I don’t know if it does all it claims to do, I will say that the taste of my tap water has improved beyond words.

Do you know this product?

Debra’s Answer

I imagine that it did make the water taste better, but it’s not doing much to remove pollutants.

Here’s how I can tell.

* It’s a pitcher, and typically pitchers don’t contain enough filter media to remove sufficient amounts of pollutants from the water.

* It’s selling point with regards to pollutants is that it “purifies water from bad odor and taste.” It doesn’t say that it removes any specific pollutants. In fact, it doesn’t state pollutant removal anywhere on the page.

* What they are really selling is the fact that they are adding hydrogen to your water, which supposedly makes your body feel better. They talk at length about the benefits of hydrogen to your body. It seems that this hydrogen is added by passing the water through a filter that has ” magnesium, tourmaline and infrared ceramics.”

I read every single word on the page. No mention of removing any chemical pollutants. No mention of how many gallons it filters. No mention of needing to replace the filter cartridge or how much that costs.

If you are interested in purchasing a filter that really does the job, I recommend PureEffect Advanced Filtration. These filters remove all the major pollutants and then some, as well as naturally adjust the water to be the degree of alkaline of water found in nature. These filters cost more that the $39 Turapure, but they actually purify and rejuvenate the water.


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Xtrema vs Visions Cookware

Question from Sue

Hi Debra,

I have very recently discovered the grim reality of stainless steel.

I have been doing a lot of reading and shopping. not sure how i found you but i am grateful!

I noticed that you recommend and use both visions and xtrema. the price difference is definitely a consideration for me.

I have found some used visions sets and single pieces on ebay . i have also seen the xtrema website and they have some nice sets which are on sale right now for mother’s day.

Ok here are my questions:

  1. are the xtrema/vision ware items very fragile?
  2. do you recommend one vs. the other? or are both good?
  3. does the vision ware age well? ie do scratches effect the food?

I am leaning toward the xtrema but i am totally open to the vision ware.

It is funny how learning about one thing changes everything! the whole thing started when i “saw” my super cheap, “stainless steel” tea kettle. it totally freaked me out!! haha! i am so ready to get rid of all the stainless steel in the house but first i must replace it.

Thank you so much for doing what you do. i am super excited to learn more from you.

Debra’s Answer

I use both Xtrema and Visions.

Xtrema is made of very fine ceramic.

Visions is made of glass. Visions is no longer being manufactured, but many pieces are available used at flea markets and online. Visions at

I have 3 Visions pots that I’ve been using for 30+ years. I have about half a dozen pieces of Xtrema that I’ve been using since they’ve been available, I think about 10 years. I’ve never broken either of them.

I have a lot of glassware and pottery. These are not fragile in the sense of a fragile glass that would break if you tipped it over. They are both very “heavy duty”. That said, I once chipped my large X pot while washing it. I have a ceramic floor and I would imaging both might break if I dropped them on the floor, but that has never happened.

Both Xtrema and Visions are very good, each in their own way.

My Visions pots have aged very well. They are glass through and through so no problem with scratches.

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Latex: Synthetic, Natural, Organic—Dunlop and Talalay

Question from Donna

Hi Debra,

I own three Savvy Rest mattresses (twin, full, and king) all made from Talalay latex as I prefer how that feels. You mention that Talalay is petroleum-based. Is that correct? Savvy Rest lists both Talalay and Dunlop as natural latex. Yikes! I’m pretty worried now that I have petroleum based latex in three very expensive beds.

Debra’s Answer

I did say that Talalay latex is petroleum-based. When you asked this question, I went back and took another look at latex and want to be more specific.

Latex foam used in mattresses can be confusing, so I’m going to sort it all out clearly here.

There are a lot of details about how latex is made, but in this post I am just going to focus on types of latex, what they are and how they are labeled.

There are two parts to understanding latex
1. the source of the latex
2. the process used to turn the latex into foam

Sources of Latex

The raw material to make latex foam for mattresses and furniture are are
1. crude oil
2. sap of the rubber tree Heaven brasilliensis

Latex made from petroleum is called “synthetic”. The most common type of synthetic latex is SBR (styrene-butadiene rubber). Yes, styrene like Styrofoam cups, which leach styrene into beverages. Synthetic latex as a stronger odor than natural latex and usually does not mean emissions standards of testing organizations such as Oeko-Tex and Greenguard.

Synthetic latex is often mixed with natural latex and marketed as “blended.” But it’s not half and half. Usually blended latex is mostly synthetic with a small amount of natural latex.

Natural latex is made from the sap of the rubber tree. The sap is “tapped” from rubber trees much in the way maple syrup is tapped from maple trees.

There are two types of natural latex:
1. natural latex
2. organic latex

While both come from the rubber tree, natural latex may have various chemicals used in the growing or processing of the sap, which are mostly unknown.

Organic latex sap is certified to usual organic standards.

So there are basically three raw materials:
1. synthetic SBR latex
2. natural latex sap
3. organic latex sap

Processes to Turn Latex into Foam

There are two basic processes
1. Dunlop
2. Talalay

Dunlop was the original process used to make latex and is simpler than Talalay.

Read a comparison of Dunlop and Talalay here

From the viewpoint of choosing the least toxic latex, these processing methods don’t seem to make much difference. The most important aspect of choosing a nontoxic latex is the raw material.

In the marketplace you’ll find:
* synthetic latex made with Dunlop or Talalay.
* natural latex mostly Dunlop, with some Talalay
* organic latex is all Dunlop at this time (but that may change as more organic latex becomes available)

If it’s organic, it’s Dunlop. But if it’s Dunlop, it could be synthetic, natural or organic.

What to Look For

The bottom line here really is if you want the most natural and nontoxic latex, choose organic.

Organic latex is certified by the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS).

The Original Question

Now to answer the original question: “You said Talalay is petroleum-based. Is that correct? Savvy Rest lists both Talalay and Dunlop as natural latex.”

It turns out I was both right and wrong in saying Talalay is petroleum-based. Some Talalay latex foam is petroleum-based and some is natural latex. But today, Talalay is never organic.

So what about Savvy Rest? Here’s what I found on their website today:

True natural latex, without synthetic latex or fillers blended in, is simply natural foam rubber. We offer two different types of natural latex: Dunlop and Talalay. Dunlop, named after the method in which it’s manufactured, is the denser, more supportive of the two. Talalay, also named after its manufacturing process, offers softness and gentle pressure-relief. (Learn more about Dunlop and Talalay here.)
Our natural Dunlop latex is certified organic in two ways. The rubber tree plantations are certified organic according to USDA standards, and its processing is certified organic to the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS).

So I would presume from this that your Talalay latex is natural, but not organic. And clearly not synthetic.

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CONSUMER REPORTS: Organic Mattress Labels You Can Trust

Consumer Reports has a great review of the certification labels used on organic mattresses. I was thinking I wanted to write a report like this, and then found this one.

According to their research only two certification meet their qualifications:

  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
  • Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)

I agree. These are the certifications to look for in an organic mattress.

Here is what each of these certifications mean:

GOTS requires that at least 95 percent of the materials in the mattress be certified organic, and it prohibits outright the use of certain substances even for the other 5 percent, such as chemical flame retardants and polyurethane, the chief ingredient of memory foam.

GOLS ensures that a mattress with latex is made of organic latex, with restrictions on the other 5 percent of the mattress’s components. Natural-latex mattresses may have both the GOTS and GOLS labels.

[CORRECTION:I need to correct Consumer Reports here. GOTS does not require that at least 95% of the total materials in the mattress be certified organic. GOTS recognizes that other materials in addition to fibers are needed to make mattresses. GOTS divides the materials into two “piles”—one is the certified organic fiber and the other is the other materials needed to make the mattress. The 95% applies to the pile of fibers only. The requirement is that 95% of the fiber used in mattresses must be certified organic.]

In addition, GOTS does allow polyurethane as part of the mattress’s componets, in the 5% that is not organic fibers. This is clearly and specifically stated in the GOTS Standard 5.0, Section This is specifically allowed as an “accessory” material that provides needed funcitionality, in this case waterproofing.]

Their review also explains the meaning of other certifications in simple terms.

They point out that Oeko-Tex Standard 100 doesn’t ensure that the fiber used in the mattress is produced organic all, but only sets limits for emissions of a list of harmful chemicals.

And they also explain why five other certifications you might see on a mattress have limited value.

CONSUMER REPORTS: Organic Mattress Labels You Can Trust

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Nontoxic Dishwasher Cleaner

Question from Bonnie

Hi Debra,

My parents are is their 80’s and can not smell anything. There was a strong cleaner smell in their kitchen – I found out it was cascade pod cleaners. Is there a nontoxic brand you know of?

Thank you.

Debra’s Answer

Readers, we’re not talking about dishwasher detergent here.

The question is about dishwasher cleaner. a product that removes limescale buildup, grease, and odors from your dishwasher.

I’m not aware of any nontoxic version of this product. And I haven’t had a dishwasher for more than 40 years, so I don’t have a solution from experience.

Readers. any recommendations?

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Harvard Study Shows Pesticides in Food Cut Sperm Count in Men by Half


From the study:

Total fruit and vegetable intake was unrelated to semen quality parameters.

High pesticide residue fruit and vegetable intake, however, was associated with poorer semen quality.

On average, men in highest quartile of high pesticide residue fruit and vegetable intake (≥1.5 servings/day) had 49% (95% confidence interval (CI): 31%, 63%) lower total sperm count and 32% (95% CI: 7%, 58%) lower percentage of morphologically normal sperm than men in the lowest quartile of intake (

Low-to-moderate pesticide residue fruit and vegetable intake was associated with a higher percentage of morphologically normal sperm (P, trend = 0.04).

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables are not a problem.

Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables with pesticides greatly reduce sperm counts.

LIVING MAXWELL: Why Organic Food is a MUST for Men — Pesticides Have Been Linked to Lower Sperm Count and Quality

HUMAN REPRODUCTION: Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Their Pesticide Residues in Relation to Semen Quality Among Men From a Fertility Clinic

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The First Affordable, Direct-to-Consumer Mattress Made With GOTS Certified Organic and Nontoxic Materials


Happsy Adult Mattresses   |   Happsy Crib Mattresses

I am very pleased to announce that Happsy mattresses are finally available for purchase.

In addition to the adult mattresses that I have been writing about here, Happsy also has a crib mattreses priced at $199. The Happsy crib mattresses are made from the same certified organic materials as the Happsy mattresses for adults. The crib mattresses are not waterproof, but  Happsy offers an optional waterproof organic mattress protector pad made of GOTS certified organic and approved nontoxic materials (also available in all adult mattress sizes).

I am making such a big deal about this because Happsy has now made organic mattresses of all sizes affordable for the entire family. In the world of toxic-free products, this is an historic event!


Original post 24 January 2017

There’s a new direct-to-consumer mattress coming to the marketplace that will be the first affordable mattress made with organic and nontoxic materials. Prices range from $749 for a twin to $1499 for a king.

This is a long-needed breakthrough for people who have been wanting a nontoxic mattress made from organic and other healthier materials at a lower price point. By selling direct to consumers online, Happsy makes mattresses made from organic and safer materials affordable for most individuals.

I’ve checked out the materials and I am happy to recommend these mattresses to you. 

Because I know many of you have been waiting for an affordable mattress made with organic and nontoxic materials, I wanted to let you know about them as soon as I could. They won’t be available for purchase until sometime in March (no, now April), but if you want to be among the first to get one, click here to add your name to the list.


To make their mattresses, Happsy uses cotton and wool that are certified organic by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).

Their latex is certified by the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS).

Because other materials are also needed to make a mattress, Happsy mattresses contain these nontoxic materials:

  • steel
  • polypropylene and polyester (in insignificant amounts)

Happsy combines these materials into their “organic comfort system.” This advanced hybrid system combines organic latex with individually encased coils. “There is no better material for comfort and pressure point relief than latex, and no better material for support and heat dissipation than individually encased coils.This combination is like a match made in heaven. It also provides isolation of movement so you can sleep undisturbed.”

No adhesives whatsoever are used to make the Happsy mattress, water-based or otherwise.

Happsy mattresses are completely free of polyurethane foam (including soybean foam blends), synthetic latex, flame retardant chemicals, chemical flame retardant barriers, perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), pesticide-treated fabrics and GMOs that are commonly found in mattresses.

Happsy mattresses are designed and manufactured in the U.S.A. with domestic and imported components.


Unlike other direct-to-consumer mattress companies, Happsy doesn’t agree that “one size fits all.” Some people prefer firmer and other people prefer plusher.

Their mattress is on the firmer side—“medium firm.”

Then they have a pillowtop add-on for those who want the mattress to be more plush.

If you know that you prefer plusher, also buy the pillowtop along with the mattress (around $200, depending on size).

If you’re not sure, buy just the mattress, and you can always buy the pillowtop if you decide you need it.


TWIN $749
TWIN XL $799
FULL $999
QUEEN $1199
KING $1499
CAL KING $1499


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Lead-free Pottery Bowls

Question from Julia

Hi Debra,

I have been making these delicious bowls with rice, veggies, etc. I want to get pasta like bowls that are lead free. What do you suggest?

Debra’s Answer

Yes I understand, I have been making “bowls” too and I love them so much that practically every meal I eat is in a bowl!

A couple of months ago I went shopping at Crate & Barrel and found some oversize bowls that I love and use for almost every meal.

And then I found some smaller bowls I had stashed away from Pier One. I had purchased these almost 15 years ago, so I doubt they still sell the same bowls, but they probably have something similar.

My rule of thumb has been to assume white bowls are safe and to check colored dinnerware with LeadCheck swabs. These are not considered as reliable as other forms of testing, but they are affordable and available. You can get them at any Home Depot or on

LeadCheck swabs are simple to use. You just rub the end of the swab against the bowl for thirty seconds and if there is lead the swab will show red. If no lead, the swab will remain white. These swabs now come in packs of 2 for about $10, so it’s more affordable to do these tests than in the past.

I used LeadCheck swabs to test two bowls that I have on my shelf and eat from every day. As I thought, they both tested negative for lead.

This bowl from Pier 1 is a salad or soup sized porcelain bowl. Here is a similar one from Pier 1 Imports and they come in several sizes.  Note this one is made in China but still tests negative for lead. This larger porcelain bowl from Crate & Barrel is a serving bowl. It’s called Essential Serving Bowl. It was in stock at my local Crate and Barrel store. This also comes in several sizes. Note this one is made in Indonesia and also tests negative for lead.

I’ve become fond of putting my food in big white bowls and am actually retiring a lot of my dinnerware because I just don’t use it. White bowls are very simple and easily hold everything I eat.

I suggest purchasing white bowls and LeadCheck swabs and then bring the bowls home and test them immediately. If the swabs turn red, return the bowls and buy other bowls until you find bowls that test negative.

Here’s an article from the Chicago Tribune from 2007, when they gathered 20+ pieces of colorful dinnerware from local stores and had them tested for lead. None showed significant amounts of lead.

Many years ago I did a LeadCheck swab test on a colorful painted dinner plate for a TV show in Washington DC. And the swab did turn red right on cue. So I’ve seen the swabs test positive and negative. Mostly negative.

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How Do I Know if There is Something Toxic In Replacement Windows Before I Buy?

Over the years on this blog the question of safe windows has been posted a number of times, and yet there have been practically no comments.

This week there was a new question, so I’m making it a new question and invite any of you reading this to share your experiences with purchasing windows for new construction or replacement.

It was a comment on the post Toxic Windows , which describes the reader’s experience finding out how toxic her new windows are by reading the MSDS after she had the windows installed.

In the 11 years since this last question re:safe windows was posted, is there any new information? We need new windows and aluminum seems the safest choice. However, how is one to really know if there is something toxic in them? By the time they are installed, it’s too late. Please, anyone, help! Thanks.

The question was how to really know if there is something toxic in windows before you install them.

The answer is to contact the manufacturer and ask.

First you want to ask them for the Safety Data Sheet. And you also want to ask them for a complete list of materials.

There are only five major materials used to make windows:

  • Vinyl
  • Wood
  • Fiberglass
  • Aluminum
  • Steel

All have some toxic components to them except for aluminum and steel.

In my house I have old wood windows from 1940 and aluminum windows from the 1960s. In other houses I have replaced windows with old wood windows from salvage yards that did not have any chemical odors.

Here’s a really good summary of window choices written by a woman with MCS who built a tiny house: MY CHEMICAL-FREE HOUSE: Non-Toxic Windows and Window Coverings.

Readers, if you have purchased some windows, please comment below with your experience.

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